Moving towards a more sustainable campus

CWRU hopes to recycle 50 percent of its trash within the next five years

With only two full-time employees, the Department of Sustainability at Case Western Reserve University has a large task in educating the campus and encouraging the CWRU culture to reduce its carbon footprint.

According to Director of Sustainability Stephanie Corbett between 15-20 percent of the trash that is collected from campus is diverted to recycling. According to building audits that were done throughout campus, 15-30 percent of the trash that goes to landfills on campus could have been recycled. The department hopes that within the next five years the school will be diverting as much as 50 percent of its trash to recycling.

A major factor in predicting this increase in recycling is the department’s plan to change the design of recycling on campus. Right now CWRU has a multi-stream recycling system, where there are separate bins for paper, cardboard and plastic, metal and glass.

In an effort to make recycling simpler, the department hopes to be using a single-stream recycling system by fall of 2015. This would mean only having one bin for all recyclable materials. The recyclable materials would then go to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) to be separated. This is done through a series of steps, including magnets, blowers and humans working hands-on. This creates an incentive for Cleveland to promote single-stream MRFs for job creation.

Corbett stressed that one of the most important factors in getting a campus to recycle is to change the culture towards sustainable thinking. There are three major initiatives happening on campus to encourage the reduction of waste amongst students and faculty.


Recyclemania is a national eight-week recycling competition that runs from February through the end of March. The competition has its roots in Ohio. Twenty years ago, Miami University and Ohio University challenged each other to a recycling competition, and it quickly took off on the national level.

The main competition is on the sheer number of recycled material in tons. Since CWRU is competing against much larger universities, the campus is more focused on individual prizes, particularly paper recycling as a single stream.

CWRU ranks among the top 25 percent of schools for paper recycling. The campus also ranks well on cardboard recycling, which is worth the most money of the single streams.
Corbett explained that the department is working to educate the campus on the importance of recycling plastic, metal and glass as well, which is a stream that CWRU tends to rank poorly on.

With CWRU being such a technological and research-focused institution, there is also a sizable amount of e-waste, which includes many things, such as old computers. The campus ranks well on the recycling and reusing of e-waste, giving any usable computers to different areas and schools.

Every year for the past four years, CWRU has increased its numbers in weight on every recycling stream in the competition.

Residence Hall Energy Competition

From April 1-April 22, CWRU will be competing for the first time in the Campus Conservation Nationals (CCN), where campuses compete throughout the U.S. on limiting electricity use.

The CCN is the largest electricity reduction competition for colleges and universities in the world. It works to reduce consumption and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The department is asking students to focus on plug load. When cables are plugged into outlets, they are trickling electricity even when it is not in use. This is also known as a vampire load. Corbett encourages students to turn their power strips off or unplug outlets when they are not in use.

Other things to consider are not leaving windows open if heaters are on and making sure to turn lights off when leaving rooms.

Green Lab Certification Program

CWRU is in the process of regulating sustainable programs in research labs through a checklist certification program, created by a small team of student interns.

The team of student auditors asks for labs to volunteer their time to go through a checklist of general lab practices that involve recycling and sustainability. Questions include what lights are left on overnight and what the recycling program is for the lab, among others. The certification program also hopes to encourage the culture to shift towards actions such as biking to work and feeling urgency around reducing carbon waste.

The Department of Sustainability hopes to audit around 10 labs this spring and increase their numbers as they finalize the project into the next school year. There are over 1,300 labs on campus.